Author’s Note: Memorial Day seems the appropriate day to post my impressions of the D-Day Memorial. (Click on images in the Gallery for full screen images.)
During my trip to southwest Virginia, John and I, both veterans (he is a retired Marine officer), decided a trip to visit the National D-Day Memorial was something we should do.
The war memorial is located just outside of Bedford, Virginia, and as we would learn, the location of the memorial was not an accident. The memorial is a national, even international, memorial, but with a strong local connection.
Thirty-four 34 soldiers from Bedford, Virginia were part of the invasion force on D-Day. Of them, nineteen were killed that day. Proportionately, the town of Bedford lost more sons than any other county in the United States on D-Day. This was the defining reason the memorial was located in Bedford County.
Plaques and signs, supported by very knowledgeable guides offer a comprehensive learning experience, but even more significant was the visceral, emotional impact of the site. This was the pivotal campaign to free Europe from Nazi Germany’s domination. Failure was not an option.
War is not pretty, nor is it entertaining—except in movies and video games. The D-Day memorial has managed to establish and effective balance between telling the very emotional and, in a sense, the horrid story of D-Day and interpreting the importance of the success of the invasion. The cost in lives of Allied soldiers was fully anticipated in the invasion planning, but that is the nature of war.
The Memorial honors all who died or were wounded on D-Day. It is a history told in terms of respect for the human cost, but acknowledging that this was the price of Freedom as the Allied Nations intended it to be.
The Memorial is physically designed to allow visitors to visualize the D-Day events as they unfolded. A tour starts at the English Garden where Eisenhower and his staff met to finalize the invasion plans and schedule operation Overlord—the code name for the invasion.
The D-Day invasion insignia (arm patch)—a flaming sword—has been created out of stone, lying on the lawn in front of the English Garden, pointing toward the “beaches of Normandy.” A broad plaza leads visitors across the “English Channel” to the “beaches.”
Here we see the view from inside a landing craft as soldiers make their way up onto the heavily defended beach. Enemy gunfire can be seen striking the water all around. At this point, I find it hard to fully describe the scene, but it captures the essence of the horror men faced during the invasion.
Eventually, the Allied Force broke through—after heavy losses of men—and captured the enemy positions overlooking the beaches. More than a year later, Hitler’s regime was defeated and World War II—in Europe—ended. The Overlord Arch is the symbol of that victory that resulted from the events of D-Day.
Note, the black and white stripes on the aircraft (see gallery) were used to identify aircraft as friendly Allied planes to prevent troops from shooting at them. The same stripes are seen on the Victory arch.